Florida Legislature ends special session with no agreement on new congressional districts [9-8-15]

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Steve Bousquet and Michael Auslen

Published September 6, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — A special legislative session to redraw congressional district lines ended in chaos Friday as senators staged an abrupt walkout and an angry House refused Senate requests to extend the session until next week.

Gov. Rick Scott has the power to force the Legislature to reconvene and agree on a map before a court-imposed deadline of next Tuesday, Aug. 25. Scott had no immediate comment on the latest legislative meltdown.

Facing an impasse over a remapping of Florida congressional districts, the Senate requested a conference committee to resolve their differences and the House refused.

“You don’t get up and leave,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the House redistricting chairman, who called the Legislature “dysfunctional.”

The crisis engulfing the Legislature greatly complicates the members’ next responsibility to redraw Senate boundaries after senators acknowledged that the 2012 lines were illegally gerrymandered.

Friday’s escalating tensions were the latest sign of a Capitol in complete chaos. Republicans have battled each other for months over health care, the budget and a recent mandate by the Florida Supreme Court to redraw congressional district lines to adhere to constitutional requirements that they not favor a party or incumbent.

The latest meltdown was complicated by two more factors: limits on private communication among lawmakers in line with the court’s instructions and the impending court review of the new map.

Three legislative staffers, hunched over computers in a Capitol cubicle, devised a so-called base map that followed the court’s orders, such as drawing a new east-west 5th district from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who has held the seat since 1992, filed suit, seeking to block the proposed realignment.

At the urging of Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, the Senate altered the map and put all of east Hillsborough into one congressional district, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. House members have privately questioned Lee’s motives.

The House instead passed its own map nearly identical to the base map, and put all of Sunrise, a city of about 90,000 people in Broward, into one district rather than being divided three ways as it is now.

In a brief Friday morning session, the Senate quickly rejected the House’s changes and insisted on its version.

“What we think counts,” Galvano told senators.

Oliva said the House is troubled that the changes to Hillsborough split Orange and Lake counties in ways that could raise new Supreme Court objections.

“The House’s position is that this current configuration would not hold up,” Oliva said.

The usually mild-mannered Galvano orchestrated the walkout after asking for a conference committee. He was joined by Sens. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, and Nancy Detert, R-Venice.